Born David Gordon Kirkpatrick, Kempsey.
June 13, 1927, - September 19, 2003


Slim Dusty - 1979

When I first interviewed Slim Dusty for the Launceston Examiner as a cadet journalist in 1967 he revealed little of the latent humour that lurked within.

Van Diemens Land in the sixties was a little like Warrnambool in the fifties.

Despite spawning groups such as the Singing Kettles from Scottsdale the country fans were a serious bunch and Slim treated them accordingly in interviews.

My only previous Dusty experience had been a concert at the Warrnambool Town Hall during school holidays in the fifties.

And, as I was reminded at the launch of Nu Country TV at the Bush Inn on Saturday by fellow Warrnambool refugee Lurch McConnell, we saw Slim frequently at the annual agricultural show.

But that doesn't count because we also saw other country singers perform and local footy stars fight in Jimmy Sharman's boxing tent.

My old man, a frequent president of the agricultural society, was keener for me to ride in a troop carrier with the then Governor Sir William Slim than a fellow dairy farmer.

And our home had more Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, Marty Robbins and Elvis records, mostly singles, at the time than those of Slim that grew rapidly over the years.


Slim's songs, like some embryonic tunes by fellow recently deceased icon Johnny Cash, were among those we de-composed for light relief behind bluestone bars in a big city boarding school.

Among culprits was fellow Warrnambool born inmate Dan Robinson, bemused by our coastal Elvis fan club, who introduced us to the music of Dylan as an antidote.

Robinson, double bass player in the school orchestra, had graduated from the Weird Mob to the Wild Cherries and Virgil Bros by the time I interviewed Slim.

With sweet serendipity it was through long time Dusty producer Rod Coe, bassist in the Sydney version of Dan's veteran outlaw country band Hit & Run with a young Andrew Baylor and an old Mick Lieber in the early eighties, that Slim's humour peaked.

It certainly wasn't visible in the seventies when his record company EMI chose me to MC a Slim Dusty promotion at the Myer record bar in Melbourne CBD.

Slim was beseiged by autograph hunters, many women of mature years, and I suggested he emulate still life models for the Plaster Casters then making a bawdy impression in the rock scene.


That was before Slim hit chart tops in 1980 with Duncan - penned by Sydney ABC mail room boss Pat Alexander.

It was on a flight to Sydney from Tamworth where I covered the annual festival for the Sydney Daily Mirror as a reward for 12 months of writing about punks, new romantics and other rock faddists, a voice suggested a Duncan parody was timely.

Shotgun Willie Nelson's first Australasian tour was set for February, 1981, so I wrote the guts of I'd Love To Have A Joint With Willie.

I sang it down the line to Barry Coburn's Yarra Bank studio in Chapel St where singer Marty Atchison and his fellow Dead Livers polished and recorded it.

Coe broke the news to Slim as latter day Nashville superstar manager, publisher and record company CEO Coburn dealt with Alexander's publisher.

Coburn rush released the song on an EP with sibling parody I'd Love To Smoke With Malcolm, penned by expatriate Kiwi Peter Caulton and the late A P Johnson, on South Of The Border Records.

The first pressing of the cassette was flown to me in Auckland where I covering Willie's tour for the Sydney Daily Mirror.

I gave it to Willie's sound man Buddy who played it to Willie who decided it make aural joy as his pre concert tour theme and warm up tune through the house speakers.

But, with more serendipity, the first concert was highlighted by an all in brawl between Samoan bikie gang The Head Hunters and the local chapter of the Hells Angels who were VIP backstage guests of Willie.

The Head Hunters pelted beer bottles and other missiles on stage at Willie's opening act - the West Texan comedian and former American Country Countdown host Don Bowman.

This fanned open warfare as the Hells Angels rushed to Bowman's aid and ambulances ferried the victims to hospital until peace broke out when Willie and band entered stage early to perform Blood Mary Morning and soothe the bloodied combatants.

It meant I had a front page story for the Telegraph, sequels for the Mirror and Australian and a ticket to ride on the rest of the New Zealand tour to Auckland and Christchurch.
And there was more musical merriment as Willie's promoter Ian Riddington chose me to moonlight as a tour bus driver from the Picton ferry to Christchurch - home town and latter day wedding locale for Coburn and country singing bride and former Hollywood child star Jewel Blanch Coburn.

It was there that Willie, starved of his daily herbal intake, belatedly came into possession of something to inhale in his roll your own.

But there was one small problem.

The Christchurch mayor, who Willie had arranged to go jogging with as a happy human interest story for the local paper and TV, was waiting in the lobby with a media crew.
So one of Willie's minders phoned the lobby and asked His Honour to give Willie a few extra minutes to tie up his laces.

But that's probably another chapter in this saga which seems to have a small diversion.
Another two tunes - Atchison's oft recorded song Holy Mary and the Bill Jackson penned Lamington Brothers tune Keep On Rolling - were later reprised on the Dead Livers debut album Greatest Misses, the second release on the Nu Country label.

The first was Johnson's Greatest Hits And Ex-Misses - also recorded at Coburn's studio and lovingly restored by Dead Livers and Broken Spoke guitarist Rodger Delfos, now the sound man for Nu Country TV.

That album of Johnson originals - now a collectors' item - is still available for a mere $10 plus $3 postage through this web page.


With the song enthusiastically adopted as Willie's pre concert tour-theme music it grew legs and earned front page headlines.

Among other characters to earn a verse each were singing Texan crime novelist Kinky Friedman, the late Waylon Jennings and Willie's merchandise manager Bo Franks.
And to add smoke to the fire most of the illegal weed wafting in the song took place in the beer garden at the Evening Star - a Surry Hills hotel frequented by journalists from the Daily Mirror, Telegraph and Australian.

One verse was spawned by a gig at The Town Talk Hotel in Tamworth where Franks and a cast of characters joined Hit & Run for a performance of Ray Wylie Hubbard's epic Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother.

It also entered where country music rarely went - mainstream radio such as Rod Muir's then MMM-FM station in Sydney as a novelty song.

And there was mock shock when Dennis Scanlan and Paul Makin played the song on Melbourne AM station 3DB and pulled if off half way through.

Herald TV writer the late Dave Dark, who was Warrnambool's first rock singer when he sang at half time at movie matinees at the now defunct Liberty Theatre when he was a 16 year old cadet at The Standard, landed that story on the then staid Herald's front page.
The story also graced front page of Melbourne bi-weekly tabloid Truth under the quaint Sydney by-line of David Rich.

But by the time Willie and Slim were photographed for the Adelaide Advertiser there was media backlash.

An Adelaide Advertiser reporter suggested to Willie that he was promoting drug use by endorsing the song.

Slim, obviously bemused because of Willie's fondness for the weed, dead panned to the stunned scribe "what about Duncan?"

Willie spoke to his label CBS about commercial release and Coe dragged Slim, wife Joy McKean, daughter Anne Kirkpatrick and band members to Sydney's Lone Star Café to catch the Dead Livers live.

It was there that the epic three sons of dairy farmers picture was snapped - Coe from New Zealand, Slim from Nulla Nulla Creek near Kempsey and this writer from the banks of the Hopkins on the Shipwreck Coast.

The Dead Livers also performed their first hit at the famed Pub With No Beer Festival at Taylors Arms on the North Coast of NSW after an appearance on Donnie Sutherland's Seven Network show Sounds and the John Singleton Ten Network variety show.


There was also plenty of mirth when Slim invited me to Alice Springs for the making of the Slim Dusty movie in September, 1983.

This was to be a behind the scenes feature for the Daily Mirror on the $2.5 million movie with accompanying pix.

But on my first day in town popular raconteur, bush poet and balladeer Ted Egan invited Slim, family and band to his new home that had the enticing name of Sinkatinny Downs.

The only part of the home that had been built was the subterranean cellar where Ted kept his wine, beer and art collection.

Egan said he hoped to finish his house that summer but was tempted to live in the cellar when not on the road.

"After a party you hose the floor and it drains itself," Egan revealed at the time.
There were no cast or crew casualties in the hot spring christening of the cellar although Rolf Harris later severed a tendon in his hand on a nocturnal visit.

Meanwhile back at the scene of the filming - an old telegraph station on the Todd River - the movie was about to earn some unexpected publicity.

A camera crew, precariously perched in a cherry picker crane to give extra elevation while filming Slim & band in concert, plunged more than 10 metres onto the dry river bed.

Photography director David Eggby of Melbourne underwent surgery in Alice Springs for a broken leg, arm and jaw and a fractured cheekbone before being sent south for further treatment.

I didn't note in the Daily Mirror what injuries were suffered by focus puller Ian Jones but there was an investigation by the Department Of Mines And Energy to establish whether there was any foul play in the snapping of the hydraulic ram on the crane.

That was just the start of the bonus publicity and none of it was blamed on a dingo.
In a 48 hour period a movie camera equipment truck overturned about 20 miles from Alice Springs after colliding with a cow.


And Slim's car Old Purple, a 1971 Fairlane with 16,000 miles on the clock the third time around, still had its original engine when it suffered body damage when it collided with two steers while travelling from Ayers Rock to Alice.

Although the crew had permission to film at Ayers Rock there was a fear that they may have disturbed the native spirits.

Movie producer Kent Chadwick evacuated his 58 member cast and crew from the Alice but not until after Slim performed his concert on the river bed.

"The show must go on," said Slim who believed the dramas had brought his crew closer together during making of the movie for which he penned Just Rolling.

Fans had driven from the missions, hiked from the stations, ridden across the desert and some travelled hundreds of miles to catch Slim's concert for the movie.

"It makes us even more determined than ever to do our best in the movie," said Slim who was forced off the road in 1981 because of a throat nodule which was removed in surgery in 1982.

"It's reality. These things happen. It's a fact of life. There's a great team spirit. It's slowly grown into a great family affair."


This was Slim's territory - the longest yard where he had performed since the birth of his career before the War.

"It's as if spirits from the past are still there and we're intruding and disturbing something that's been here for so long," Slim confided on the movie set as I wondered if extraneous forces may have primed the pump.

"But there have been pretty good vibes all the way through. There's definitely, to me, a hidden spiritual beauty there.

"You can feel it. This is so old. It's a peaceful spirit, not a bad spirit. I don't think the accidents were related to it. It's just built up since Ayers Rock, built up to a chain of events. To me there's a rugged dream time beauty.

The movie finished with a concert at the Sydney Opera House but not before another tragedy to one of its characters.

At the movie premiere party in Sydney in 1984 I asked Slim about a gnarled character who had caught my eye.

Slim broke down and cried as he told me about Queensland rodeo rider, cattleman and bush raconteur Lew Williams of a cancer less than a month after being filmed.

Williams, 66, recited poetry for Slim in an emotional scene shot at Bowen on the coast of North Queensland.

"It was a hard part for Lew to play," Slim, recovering from a pancreatic disease which caused cancellation of his 1984 tour, revealed while choking back tears.

"Lew knew he was suffering cancer and only had a short time to live when we arrived in Bowen. But he didn't want to let us down so he volunteered to recite his poetry around the old camp fire for us.

"Lew was the toughest man I ever met. He would walk across prickly pear without shoes. He was a genuine Aussie folk hero with a heart of gold. Whenever we came to Bowen on our numerous tours he'd lay out the read carpet for us.

"The saddest part is he never got to see the movie. He succumbed to cancer only three weeks after we shot the Bowen scenes in August. Although I've seen the movie several times it still cut me up when I saw him acting his role again tonight."


But Slim was not amused when little Kentucky born mate, Tom T Hall, revamped 1958 hit The Pub With No Beer which was inspired by a Dan Sheehan poem.

Hall cut Slim's classic with a new title, Bar With No Beer, American lyrics and no credit or royalties for writer Gordon Parsons on his 1985 album Song In A Sea Shell.

Injunctions were threatened by Parsons publisher Barry Chapman of Castle Music who flew to the U.S. and sued over copyright infringement.

The Pub With No Beer was the last song recorded by Slim on April Fool's Day in 1957 but wasn't considered important enough to be released as a single.

Instead it came out as the B side of Saddle Boy in September 1957 - but by early 1958 it was a No 1 hit here and in England and Ireland.

When it was released in America it entered the charts with a bullet and was then promptly banned because it was about drinking.

In those days cheating and drinking songs were far too taboo for Nashville, deep in the buckle of the he Bible belt.

But this was just another ripple in the bar wars surrounding the song's origins.


North Queensland locals considered the hit was a mere rehash of a poem written by cane farmer Dan Sheehan in 1943 and published in the North Queensland Register in 1944.

The Sheehan family fronted Slim when he was performing in Ingham and claimed it as their own.

"There is no disputing that old Dan Sheehan wrote a poem called A Pub Without Beer and that parts of it were similar to the song," Slim conceded.

"What has always annoyed me is the suggestion by some people that Gordon Parsons deliberately stole the song. It wasn't that way at all.

"About a year before I recorded the song Gordon visited Taylors Arm in northern NSW.

During the visit he was given a piece of paper on which were some handwritten verses of the poem. The mate who gave it to him said it had been about for years and Gordon assumed it was one of those anonymous bush ballads you find floating around."

There has long been spirited debate about which is the original pub with no beer.
Parsons claimed he wrote the lyrics around the characters and animals that frequented the Taylors Arm pub.

It prompted the popular, annual Pub With No Beer festival near the NSW hillside town nestled high among plantations diverse as bananas and other cash crops.

This upset the locals at the Day Dawn Hotel in Ingham where an incident prompted the poem that Sheehan wrote.


Hall, recidivist tourist of Australia, famed author and former TV host, claimed he first heard of the song from Bill Cosby.

But the veteran singer, whose Harper Valley PTA seems to have revivals every decade, forgot about the song until Johnny Cash sent him a tape of it.

Cash suggested it would be a natural for Hall but hadn't envisaged his little mate would Americanise it and claim the writing royalties and credit.

But after a lengthy legal battle, which chewed up more cash in legal fees than Tom's cut earned in royalties, future pressings carried Parsons name as the writer.

This was suffice justice for Parsons, who died shortly after his belated victory, and Slim who resumed his friendship with Hall, now 67.

Forty years after the original song topped Australian and English charts, Slim buried the hatchet by including Hall's cut of Drowning My Blues on tribute album, Not So Dusty in 1998.

"Tom was very good to us when my wife Joy and I went to Nashville," Slim, then 70, told me.

"He showed us all around in his big black stretch limo, greeted Joy with a big bunch of flowers and met me with a bottle of Jack Daniels. He also took us to our digs - The Opryland Hotel - which covers 53 acres and is the second largest hotel in the world."


So this is probably a good time to reveal there was also another version of Pub With No Beer.

Wolverines singer Darcy LeYear and this writer penned The Bloke With No Coke in a sojourn that also produced Hillbillies Hate Change and Jodie - both recorded by Darcy and former Melbourne country singer B J McKay - and Death Breath which was cut by Nev Nicholls.
But, like our other joint compositions Deadlock Heart, Redneck Choir and Repo Man, it never ascended from demo tape.


On another U.S. trip Slim gathered memorabilia to adorn the mantle piece of his North Shore Sydney home.

Nestled among 35 plus gold guitars, MBE and OA awards, is a Klingon alarm clock, models of the Enterprise and a signed photograph from Captain Kirk.

The Dusty song Star Truckie gives a few clues to his other life as a trekkie.

"Beam me up Scottie, I'm ready to ride/ to take my place at the helm of the Enterprise/ I'm a Star Trucker - a Star Trucker/ and it's time for me to go interplanetary."

Slim may have suffered a heart attack and suffered kidney cancer, causing removal of a kidney, in latter years.

But he never lost his sense of humour in a career spanning 106 albums - an amazing feat in a nation where his genre is not a radio staple.

Although he only finished eight of 13 planned songs for his 106th and final album it's a safe bet the disc will emerge.

And fate ensured he survived Johnny Cash, 71, by a week and, with just a dash of irony, parody prince and actor Sheb Wooley, 82, of Purple People Eater fame by three days.


Slim's prolific recording and writing - songs, poems and books - and his painful death from kidney cancer has been well covered elsewhere in the mainstream media.

So has his encouragement of young talent diverse as Keith Urban, The Kernaghans, Troy Cassar-Daley, The Chambers and his own offspring - daughter Anne and his doctor son David.

The elder statesman also encouraged and nurtured a vast array of musicians in his touring bands which performed the outback and coast - an oasis where too few modern artists of any genre venture.

But equally importantly he recorded songs from writers south of the Murray Dixon line when country wasn't cool.

Among beneficiaries were Bernie O'Brien and Saltbush peers, Bill Chambers, Alistair Jones and Keith Glass in their younger days.

And he wasn't afraid to tackle tunes such as Charleville by Cold Chisel refugee Don Walker who also gave Red Rivers his break.

And that all happened long before Slim gave exposure to younger artists from diverse genres on Not So Dusty.

Nu Country TV will pay tribute to Slim and Johnny Cash, whose obituary is a work in progress, in the series debuting on C 31, nee Channel 3l, at 8 p m on Saturday October 4.
When I interviewed Slim about Not So Dusty in 1998 I asked him if the recent deaths of singing cowboys Roy Rogers, 88, and Gene Autry, 91, worried him.

"We keep ploughing on," replied Slim who tilled the topsoil 65 years ago with The Way The Cowboy Dies.


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